Hunting for Cops

Until very recently, an article titled "Hunt for Cops" might have described a city’s effort to recruit more police officers. Sadly, that was not the message of an article in the July 3, 2005, Cleveland Plain Dealer, my hometown newspaper.

"Residents of the capital of the poor and chaotic Russian province of Dagestan have come to call it ‘the hunt for cops’ – more than two years of bold and brutal attacks on police. … 26 police officers have been killed in gun and bomb attacks this year alone."

What is true in Dagestan is also true in Iraq: Iraqi police are being hunted and killed in large numbers by the Iraqi resistance. As one commentator recently put it, it is safer to be a door-to-door Bible salesman in Peshawar than to wear a police uniform in Baghdad. And it is happening in some American cities. Police officers are being killed – assassinated, really – not because they get in the way of some bank robber but because they are symbols of the state. A Fourth Generation fighter, usually a gang member, simply walks up to a police cruiser and shoots a cop.

It is easy to understand why Fourth Generation entities would go hunting for cops. The police are not only the first line of defense in the state’s attempt to maintain order (remember that maintaining order was the state’s original raison d’etre), they are an irreplaceable line. If the police fail and the military has to be called in, the state has probably lost. Why? Because troops, who are trained for combat, not police work, usually act in ways that alienate the population they are supposed to protect. That in turn further undermines the legitimacy of the state, which is both the origin and the goal of Fourth Generation war. This dynamic is one of the principal reasons why the legitimacy of Iraq’s American-installed government remains tenuous at best. It continues to depend on troops, many of them foreign, rather than being able to rely on police to create and maintain order.

It is less easy to see what police should do about Fourth Generation threats, to themselves and to the communities they are supposed to protect. Two approaches do not work. The first is brutality. The aforementioned article reports that

"The roots of the hunt (for cops) reach back to fall 1998, when Dagestani authorities moved to fight back against growing criminality by forming a special police division to combat kidnapping. …

"The division was under pressure to show results, and its officers started employing torture regularly to squeeze confessions out of suspects, said an officer in the regional prosecutor’s office who spoke on condition of anonymity."

A second approach that does not work is militarizing the police. This is a phenomenon which we already see too often in American police departments, where citizens increasingly face police officers in fatigues, helmets, and body armor, armed with automatic weapons. Such units are needed, but they must remain largely invisible to the public. Why? Because their intimidating appearance separates the public from the police, while effective police work demands the closest possible relationship between the police and the public.

This points to what is probably the most effective approach police can use against Fourth Generation elements: community policing. Community policing relies on police officers who always work the same neighborhood, often on foot. They come to know that neighborhood intimately, including many of the people who live there. With the help of the people they protect, they can quickly see any abnormality and move to nip it in the bud. And just as the cop protects the neighborhood, the neighborhood protects its cop. A close, working relationship between citizens and police faces any Fourth Generation fighter with a very difficult problem.

Cops, most of them anyway, understand this. Several years ago, I gave my standard Fourth Generation of Modern War talk to a police conference in Salt Lake City. Whereas maybe 10 percent of a military audience gets what I am saying, 90 percent of the cops got it.

Unfortunately, American government, on all levels, does not get it. The Bush administration has effectively destroyed the best community policing program in the country, the Police Corps. State and local governments are happy to spend money to militarize the police, but they regard community policing, which is labor-intensive, as inefficient. They remain content with the L.A. model, where police isolated in cruisers respond to calls. If the goal is to preserve order, by the time a call comes, it is too late. Order has already been undermined by an incident that community policing might have prevented.

When it comes to Fourth Generation war, an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

Read more by William S. Lind

Author: William S. Lind

William Lind is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation. He is a former congressional aide and the author of many books and articles on military strategy and war.